Friday, December 16, 2016

Noticed at the rally: ‘Spain Day’ in Kolkata 1936-37

Suchetana Chattopadhyay

‘On that tableland scored by rivers,
Our thoughts have bodies; the menacing shapes of our fever
Are precise and alive. For the fears which made us respond
To the medicine ad, and the brochure of winter cruises
Have become invading battalions;
And our faces, the institute-face, the chain-store, the ruin
Are projecting their greed as the firing squad and the bomb.
Madrid is the heart. Our moments of tenderness blossom
As the ambulance and the sandbag;
Our hours of friendship into a people's army.
To-morrow, perhaps the future.’

‘Spain’, W. H. Auden

How did the worker’s movement in Kolkata respond to a left internationalist appeal for solidarity with Republican Spain during the early months of the Spanish Civil War? Quick examinations of the few archival records that survive convey that the workers and their leaders, by identifying the systemic interlocking of capitalism, imperialism and fascism, were forging a vision of internationalism from below.
On 9 August 1936, at the maidan (open space) adjacent to Ochterlony Monument, a time-honoured spot for public meetings, Shamsul Huda was noticed at a rally. Along with other trade union organisers and about 50 workers, he was observing ‘Spain Day’ in Kolkata.A worker from a Bengali-Muslim peasant background, Huda had travelled to Moscow via United States in the 1920s and successively joined Communist Party of USA, Communist Third International (Comintern) and émigré Communist Party of India (CPI). Upon return from his radical voyage across the world, he had participated in communist-led trade union movements in and around Kolkata. This led to his arrest and conviction in Meerut Communist Conspiracy Case (1929-31). For renewed activism in the sphere of labour he was incarcerated again for a year in 1935. Released in March 1936, he was staying at Room Number 25, 41 Zakaria Street, the informal quarters of the Kolkata Committee of CPI and formal office address of the Ganashakti (People’s Power) Publishing. Eight days after coming out of prison, in early April, the police questioned him on his political identity and plans. He openly stated he was a communist by conviction, having no religion and no connection with the banned Communist Party. His interrogatorsprobably refused to believe him when he declared: ‘I am at present taking rest. I have not yet decided what I will do in the future.’ Four months later, the police spotted him at a worker’s rally in support of the Spanish Republic, soon after the civil war had started in Spain.[1]

(Communist Poster commemorating the genealogy and birth of the Spanish Republic as the culmination of people’s victory)

From the assorted reports of Intelligence Branch of Bengal Police and Special Branch of Calcutta Police, it is possible to form an impression on the ways in which a connection between the anti-fascist resistance in Spain and the expanding leftwingtrade union movement in Kolkata was being made. Despite meanings lost in the passage from the speaker’s mouth to the police observer’s ears and notebooks, the descriptions provided by official sources indicate that a wider worldview on the connections between capital, empire-building and fascism was being disseminated by leftwing labour organisers. They were aiming to motivate and educate the workers who were alreadyforming militant unions to push forward their economic and political demands. The local labour campaigns were being combined with the international left solidarity with Spain.The multiple routes by which the organisers arrived at this position reflected the variegated branches of the left’s engagement with workers. While CPI activists represented an identifiable militant bloc, other groups and individuals were also influential in organising diverse working-class segments distributed across industrial and service sectors in formal and informal ways. Apart from Huda, two other labour organisers linked with leftwing internationalism, Sibnath Banerjee and Soumyendra Nath Tagore were active in the trade union movement in support of Spain. Though coming from proprietor segments of Bengal, they had parted ways with the political and social directions of the bhadralok (Hindu upper-caste) gentry and professionals. Banerjee, an independent socialist, had travelled to Russia immediately after the Bolshevik Revolution. He organised militant strikes in the Hooghly industrial belt of South Bengal and worked with the Indian National Congress-affiliated All India Trade Union Congresss (AITUC). Tagore had travelled to Europe as an unofficial representative of communists in India during the late 1920s and later formed a small group in the wake of schisms following the Sixth Congress of the Comintern. Like Huda, both of themhad been politically transformed by the post-1917 world. As left activists of the interwar era, theypossessed an understanding of crisis of capitalism during the Great Depression and the attendant polarisation between labour and capital, fascism and anti-fascism, imperialism and the colonised/semi-colonised populations. They were joined by those whose activism had a local focus but not bereft of an analysis of the international situation. Though the communists, smaller left parties and socialists working with Indian National Congress were separated by terms of political affiliations as there were inter-party divergences over aim and strategy, they adopted anti-fascism as a considered political position and launched joint campaigns in labour circles. Theoretically, Huda, Banerjee and others were guided by and absorbed the positions of the Comintern linking fascism with big business and propagating united front of anti-fascists against the fascist offensive as the most effective counter-strategy. Tagore was influenced by breakaway splinters from the Comintern which also advocated anti-fascist resistance.

The solidarity with the Spanish Republic was launched at two labour meetings in Kolkata during August 1936 and lived on through other meetings in the following year. Their vivid and detailed descriptions in the police dossiers showed persistent attempts to organise the unorganised segments of the workforce, expand existing unions and launch labour movements as practical programmes of everyday class survival.These steps merged with the conjoined advocacy of anti-fascism and proletarian self-government. While resisting a regime of capital, the workers and labour activists were absorbing Spain within a larger and intertwined struggle against empire-building and fascism.On the first rally in support of Spain held on 9 August 1936 by All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), Special Branch reported that several ‘labour parties of Calcutta’ had organised a public meeting at the foot of Ochterlony Monument in maidan. The aim of the rally, they interpreted, was to observe ‘Spain Day’. Visited by the spectre of communism, the police regarded solidarity with Spainon the left as an expression of sympathy towards the communists of Spain who were fighting a war with the fascists. The audience, primarily comprising around 50 labourers, was supplemented by 24 left trade union activists. The banners, flags, placards and slogans convinced the police agents that this was a left initiative. A red banner proclaimed in English: ‘unite to fight against imperialism and fascism and war for work and wages or maintenance’. A red flag with the communist ‘insignia’ of hammer, sickle and the star and another ‘big red flag’ were spotted. The placards championed the Popular Front government in Spain, demanded an end of abuse faced by political prisoners in colonial jails in India, condemned an incident of firing on protestors in French Pondicherry and exhorted workers of the world to unite against fascism and counter-revolution in Spain. Labour, inter-provincial and anti-imperialist campaigns were thereby incorporated within the campaign in support of Popular Front in Spain. The meeting was punctuated with shouts of ‘Lal Jhanda ki Jai’ (Victory to the Red Flag), ‘Mazdur Dal ki Jai’ (Victory to the Worker’s Party), ‘Dunia ka Mazdur ki Jai’ (Victory to the Workers of the World), ‘Mazdur Kisan Hukumat ki Jai’ (Victory to a government of Workers and Peasants), ‘Mazdur Millat ki Jai’ (Victory to worker’s unity), ‘Samrajyabad dhangsha hok’ (May Imperialism be destroyed) and ‘Inquilab Zindabad’ (Long live Revolution).

The meeting began at 5.30 PM. The heterogeneous character of the audience, comprised of multiple lingual, caste and religious segments could be detected from the various languages in which the speakers addressed them. Sudhin Pramanik, speaking in Hindi, explained the purpose of the meeting. To the police agents present, this was to show ‘sympathy’ towards communists of spain who were at war with the fascists. Pramanik proposed Sibnath Banerjee as chair and Ranjit Mazumdar seconded this. Nityananda Chaudhuri read out a resolution in English:
‘This mass meeting of workers and citizens of Calcutta and suburbs considers the fascist coup d’état in Spain as a direct blow to the United People’s Front and the proletariat movement of the world. While condemning the fascist counter-revolution in Spain, it expresses its solidarity with the People’s Front of Spain and calls upon the Indian people to mobilise their force against the menace of fascism, imperialism and war. This meeting further calls upon the workers of Italy and Germany, over the heads of their Fascist Government in alliance…to come out in support of the Spanish People’s Front.’

Explaining the resolution in Hindi, Chaudhuri observed that the reins of the ‘United Front’ government in Spain were at present in the hands of the workers who were more powerful than the fascists.  This was why the fascistshad declared war against a people’s government. There existed an unspoken solidarity among the capitalists which did not exist among workers. Capital was afraid of the united front movement led by workers, which was also emerging in Belgium, France and China. Citing Soviet Russia as an example of worker’s rule which had survived for the last 18 years, he stressed on the need for workers’ unity against the forces capitalism and fascism. Ranjit Mazumdar seconded the resolution. Speaking in Bengali, he said that the rich, all over the world, constituted only 2 percent of the population. Yet, they had combined and were lording over the poor, the remaining 98 per cent. Capital was trying to suppress labour with the aid of bullets, knives and swords. The capitalists from all over the world were helping the fascists in Spain with arms to bring down the present government. Meanwhile, wherever a capitalist government was in power, there was unemployment and people were dying of starvation. The workers of the world should try to counter the attempts of fascism to establish its rule in Spain and should help the United People’s Front. The workers should also try to ‘wipe off’ the rich from the world.

The police noted the rain had become a drizzle when the meeting started. It now began to pour heavily. Soon‘all was disorder’ and‘a major portion of the audience’ left. The organisers ‘began to sing communist songs’ which were not‘heard distinctly’, the lead having been taken by Nityananda Chaudhuri and Sisir Roy. This was followed by a speech in Urdu by Abdul Gani who also supported the meeting’s resolution. He remarked that the capitalists were drinking the blood of the workers.The workers of India should sympathise with the workers of Spain and rally against the capitalists. Advocating a militant route, he suggested a red army of labourers should be formed to help workers whenever they needed it. At this point, the heavy rain forced the organisers to end the meeting. One police report stated that after the meeting was concluded at 6.10 PM, about 10 workers led by Sibnath Banerjee started a procession with a red flag and shouting slogans. They proceeded upto the Esplanade crossing and dispersed. Another report, filed the day after, contradicted this version and observed that no procession was formed once the meeting ended and the audience ‘dispersed’.

Two days later on 12 August 1936, the police learnt that under the auspices of AITUC, Spain Day will be observed at Sradhyananda Park in the early evening and students and workers will participate. The crowd was expected to be larger and include bell-metal workers were expected to march to the meeting in a procession. Accordingly, two police officers and two watchers, Satyen Bhattacharji and Moni Saha were present in the park to trace if any leaflets were being distributed. To their disappointment, no leaflet of any kind was circulated. Unable to find any incriminating text floating around, they grumpily observed that Umbrella stick-makers of Champatala, who had collected at the park to walk in a procession to a labour meeting at Jorabagan Park, were ‘forcibly stopped’ and made to participate in the proccedings by Sibnath Banerjee. It seems from the description that the umbrella workers readily joined the meeting.

A poster hanging on the railing of the park proclaimed: ‘Down with Fascist Counter-Revolution’. In the North-West corner about 50 people had initially assembled. Their ranks swelled gradually to 200 and came to include the 30 umbrella-benders. At around 5.55 PM, the meeting started. Sibnath Banerjee speaking in Bengali remarked that the capitalists had rebelled against a worker’s government in Spain. What was happening there will happen in India in the future. Capital will wage a life and death struggle against workers and peasants to keep them from attaining prosperous living conditions. While Soviet Russia and a section in France were supporting the government of Spain, Italy and Germany were backing the fascist rebels with armaments. Money was being raised in Russia to help Spain. In India, colonial capital was oppressing the workers along with native capitalists. The peasants and workers of India should support the peasants and workers of Spain. Abdus Sattar, a socialist leader from Burdwan, who preside over the meeting, echoed this position. He stressed that the workers should support Spain for the Spanish poor were being attacked by forces of capital, the common enemies of the labouring classes across the world.The outcome of the conflict in Spain was bound to exercise an impact on international politics andIndia and its people could not remain unaffected. If British imperialists supported the fascists in Spain, people of India should give a fitting reply to Britain since India was her economic mainstay.He pointed out that the professed neutrality of Britain was not being carried out in practice, as was evident from press reports. People of India should stand by Spain. Sattar moved a motion of solidarity of Calcutta workers with workers and peasants of Spain, alarmed at attempts by Germany and Italy to suppress the Spanish masses. The resolution added that the meeting was watching with great apprehension the growing confrontation between imperialism and the working class. It was also declared that henceforth 9 August will be observed as Spain Day.
(Photo: Franco and Hitler)
Shamsul Huda speaking in Bengali said the imperialists and the fascists were joined together in a conspiracy to destroy the workers and peasants’ government in Spain. The working masses of India must support the Spanish government. If the Spanish fascists win, imperialism and capitalism will win and a second war, even more devastating than the Great War, will be unleashed on the civilian populations of the world. The use of deadly chemical weapons, including poison gas and bombs was a certainty. To establish the rule of workers and peasants in this country, the people of India who have been exploited, oppressed and had their blood sucked for 150 years, must resist fascism and imperialism. Shamsul Huda, upholding the Comintern and CPI position, stressed on the need to form a ‘United Front’ or ‘Popular Front’. Other speakers, also speaking in Bengali, connected the starving conditions in the country with the working of banks, capital and imperialism and supported Spain’s struggle against fascism. Rajani Mukherjee, for instance, said that people in India died of starvation in front of banks and restaurants since religion forbade them to rise. The banks and restaurants could not have functioned smoothly in Europe if the conditions had been the same.

The meeting dissolved at 7PM. Sattar as president of the meeting requested the workers to form a procession and march to Jorabagan. Thirty workers of umbrella-bending workshops who were waiting at the park to join a labour meeting of their associations at Jorabagan Park, were accompanied by 10 trade union organisers who had participated in the Spain Day meeting. The assembled arms of the law, the mixed group of low-level government watchers, Special Branch and Intelligence Branch officers as well as the regular police who were present at the meeting immediately trailed the procession during its ‘entire route’, possibly fishing for rewards and praise from the higher authorities.They eagerly followed the umbrella stick-benders,a small crowd of plebians without banners, marching through the ‘native’ neighbourhoods of Amherst Street, Mirzapur Street, Colootola Street, Chitpur Road-Chittaranjan Avenue, Maniktala Street, Raja Gurudas Street, Beadon Street and NimtalaGhat Street. The processionists reached the Jorabagan Park meeting at about 8 PM in the diminished number of around 20 persons, including Abdus Sattar, Sudhin Pramanik, Mohhammad Ismail, Manoranjan Roy, Abdul Gani and other communist and left labour leaders who had joined them after the Spain Day meeting. Sibnath Banerjee and Pratap Singh had escorted them up to Mechuabazar Street before parting ways. During the march, Abdul Gani raised distinctly ‘red’ slogans, including some aired in the previous meeting on 9 August: ‘Lal Jhanda ki Jai’ (Victory to the Red Flag), ‘Duniya ka fascism barbad’ (May fascism perish in the world), ‘Duniya ka capitalism barbad’ (May capitalism perish in the world), ‘Inquilab Zindabad’ (Long Live Revolution), ‘Spain ka inquilabi jung’ (Spain’s Revolutionary War), ‘Mazdur Dal ki Jai’ (Victory to the Workers’ Party),‘Soviet Russia zindabad’ (Long Live Soviet Russia) and in anticipation of a future victory, ‘Soviet China zindabad’ (Long Live Soviet China). Suresh Chandra Ghosh and Surjyakanta Ghosh also echoed similar slogans: ‘Lal Jhanda ki Jai’, ‘Inquilab Zindabad’, ‘Mazdur Dal ki Jai’, ‘Sramik Union ki Jai’, ‘Sramik Brinda ki Jai’ (Victory to workers), ‘Sramik Hukumat ki Jai’, ‘Strike Mazdur-o ki Jai’ (Victory to striking workers). The ‘red’ flavour was noticed in the banners and flags exhibited at the Jorabagan Park meeting, bringing together umbrella workers of different industrial units: a red banner with the inscription in Bengali alphabets, ‘Lal Jhanda ki Jai, Champatala chatar banter sramik brinda’ (Victory to the Red Flag, Umbrella-bending workers of Champatala), a red banner also in Bengali letters, ‘Bhadra Brothers Chatarbanter karkhanar karigar brinda, 5 Nilmoni Ganguly Lane’ (Umbrella-being Artisans of Bhadra Brothers Factory, 5 Nilmony Ganguly Lane) and two impudent red flags. Spain Day thereby merged with the struggle of an obscure segment of workers, becoming organised and militant, and overcoming their invisibility in the big city.

(Photo: Children as homeless victims during the civil war in Spain)
Solidarity with Spain continued in 1937 and surfaced at labour meetings. The meeting most highlighted in history was organised by the leftwing intelligentsia, under the auspices of League Against Fascism and War, on 11 March 1937 at Albert Hall. It was an outcome of the ‘united front’ between the communists, socialists, labour activists, nationalists and progressive anti-fascist intellectuals. The Special Branch officers filed a joint report that night. The meeting, they noted, began with a reading of names. Members of Spain committee included prominent and leading scientists and authors, nationalists and leftists, communists and trade unionists, intellectuals and academics. The long list included many men and a handful of women who had breached the male bastion of the public sphere: Prafulla Chandra Roy, Rabindranath Tagore, Sarat Chandra Bose, J. C. Gupta, S. C. Banerjee, Satyen Mazumdar, Prabhu Dayal Himatsingka, Mira Dutt Gupta, Labanyalata Chanda, Srish Chandra Chakraborty, Asimuddin, R. Ahmed, Surendra Nath Goswami, Gunada Mazumdar, Rajani Mukherjee, Kamal Sarkar, Deben Sen, Hrishikesh Banerjee, Nanigopal Mukherjee, Satya Ranjan Sengupta, Ranjit Mazumdar, Muzaffar Ahmad, Arun Banerjee, Soumyendra Nath Tagore and others. Sarojini Naidu presided. Hirendranath Mukhopadhyay, Suren Goswami, Gunada Mazumdar, Soumyendra Nath Tagore, Ram Manohar Lohia and ‘two other gentlemen’ spoke. The president and the speakers requested people not to be indifferent to the situation in Spain and offer help in every possible way. 1500 people, including ‘ladies and gentlemen’, attended. The meeting ended at 7.30PM.[2] Hirendranath Mukhopadhay recalled the event 50 years later. With the benefit of hindsight, he observed that Spain was the dress rehearsal of Second World War:‘I remember speaking at a large meeting in Albert Hall alongside Suren Goswami, a progressive left writer and Sarojini Naidu. Rabindranath had responded to the appeal to stand in solidarity with Spain. In the wider anti-fascist political campaign, we (communists) worked with Sudhindranath Datta (poet) and Soumyendra Nath Tagore as well as journalists, poets, intellectuals.’[3]

In early April, the Special Branch recorded that the members of ‘League Against Fascism and War’ have formed All India Spain Democracy Defence Committee. They displayed greater maturity in grasping the issue of mobilising in support of a leftwing popular democracy by noting that the aim of the members was to assist the democratic cause in Spain. The local office of the Committee was located at 220 Cornwallis Street (Section E). Among members listed were Soumyendra Nath Tagore as communist leader and Organizing Secretary,  Ranajit Mazumdar (Bengal), Swami Sahajananda (Bihar), Nityananda Kanungo (Orissa), Sajjad Zahir and Purnima Banerjee (United Provinces), P.Y. Deshpande (Central Provinces), Sohan Singh Josh and Freda Bedi (Punjab), F. H. Ansari and Bahal Singh (Delhi), Indulal Yagnik, Nimbkar and Meher Ali (Bombay), Kameshwar and N.C.Ranga (Madras).

Dr. R. Ahmed, Honorary Secretary, Bengal Provincial Spain Committee convened a public meeting on 12 April 1937 to raise popular awareness on the Spanish Civil War and money for the ‘Spain Fund’ at College Square. Held between 5.35-6.35 PM, it was short and attracted 75 people. Four government reporters present at the meeting recorded the speeches delivered by Soumyendra Nath Tagore, Professor Suren Goswami and Gunada Mazumdar. Goswami initially chaired the meeting. He left after a while and Gunada Mazumdar chaired the proceedings. Suren Goswami, speaking in Bengali, arguedIndiawas fighting for independence and must stand by the Spanish republican government in its struggle for democracy at a time of distress.

Soumyendra Nath Tagore, also addressing the crowd in Bengali, observed that the imperial system which governed India was not in favour of the government in Spain. Anti-imperialists therefore must show an international concern for Spain in her struggle since it was not her’s alone. He also referred to the ongoing jute general strike directed against colonial capital. He appealed for financial contributions to be sent to R.Ahmed, 2/1 Esplanade East or 220 Cornwallis Street and expressed satisfaction that Rs.50/- could be handed over at the meeting to this fund. He said the money was to be sent via Delhi and Paris to Spain.‘Spain’, a pamphlet by Soumyendra Nath Tagore was on sale at the meeting. Gunada Mazumdar, also speaking in Bengali, condemned the working of imperialism and capitalism in India and related this to capital’s attempt to destroy the government in Spain.

The next day, at Wellington Square under the banner of Water Transport Workers Union, Taltala Branch, an evening meeting for Spain was held between 5.40PM and 7PM. Sibnath Banerjee spoke. Two hundred people, including 50 seamen, were present. Since the Taltalaneighbourhood was well-known for housing sea-farers from a Bengali Muslim background, their demands surfaced in the speeches. A red banner with slogans in Bengali and a red star with hammer and sickle was prominently displayed. The mood of working-class militancy was also conveyed through slogans: ‘Lal Jhanda ki Jai’, ‘Jahaji Sramikki Jai’ (Victory to maritime workers), ‘Water Transport Workers Union ki Jai’, ‘Spain ka Mazdur ki Jai’ (Victory to Spanish Workers), ‘Mazdur Kisan Hukumatki Jai’(Victory to the Government of Workers and Peasants), ‘Duniyar Sramik Andolan ki Jai’ (Victory to the Workers’ Movement of the World), ‘Swadhin  Bharat ki Jai’ (Long Live Independent India) and ‘Inquilab Zindabad’.

Sibnath Banerjee presided. The meeting was significant for the presence of leaders from a working-class milieu. Banerjee introduced Abdul Qadir as a persecuted organiser of workers from Bauria jute mill. Speaking in Bengali, Qadir repeated the argument thatIndiawas fighting for democracy and independence and should stand by Spain when it was being attacked by fascists. He appealed for money to assist Spain. Badiur Rahman said fascism and imperialism were at the root of the attack on the Spanish republic and ensuing civil war. He asked seamen to raise money for Spain and requested Sibnath Banerjee to raise the cause of seamen in the provincial legislature. Zulfikar, also speaking in Bengali, referred to the miserable conditions of seamen. Despite the tendency of Qadir and Zulfikar to attack Aftab Ali, the leader of Indian Seamen’s Union as an exploiter of lascars, by connecting the struggles of seafarers with the fight for a popular democratic government in Spain, they were asking the workers to jointly combat capital and fascism. Soumyendra Nath Tagore, explaining the situation in Spain, argued that the government was not a communist but a popular one, based on mass support and committed to improving the conditions of peasants and workers. It was being attacked by the forces of capitalism and imperialism, the same forces which own the shipping companies. He referred to the appeal from intellectuals and leaders to assist Spain, Romain Rolland and Rabindranath’s position on the need to defeat fascism, Nehru’s observation thatSpainwas fighting for India by fighting for democracy and the death of Ralph Fox, a British communist writer and critic who had volunteered in the civil war.  He asked the audience to donate on behalf of the masses of India and reported that the fund-raising drive was yielding results, the Spain committee having already sent Rs.100/- to Spain. Sibnath Banerjee speaking in Bengali referred to the expanding strike action among jute workers against colonial capital which was rapidly taking on the shape of a general strike. He observedthat British imperialism was not being able to resist fascism as it was spreading as a movement in England. Despite the arrogance of Italian fascists, Britain was placating them and was anxious to preserve capitalism as a regime. If India was free, she would have sent lakhs of rupees and volunteers to Spain. In the current circumstances, India must stand with Spain to defeat General Franco.[4]

Standing with Spain and standing against the rule of capital and capitalism-driven colonialism thus became inseparable. The labour meetings which first launched the solidarity movement with Spain in August 1936, continued to find resonance in the meetings that followed. A militant rejection of capitalism as a global system and the source of imperialism and fascism emerged in these gatherings. This position was combined with the immediate issues confronting segments of workers in Kolkata and its hinterland in the era of Great Depression. Workers in small-scale industrial units and small to large service-sectors were organising against oppressive labour conditions. In the parks, squares and streets of Kolkata, their distance from Spain was being bridged through the shared vision of a popular, socialist, democratic rule forged from countless experiences of exploitation, rooted in the working masses and freed from the depredations of capital. Their social voice was finding an outlet as a political voice of self-aware people belonging to a particular class, concentrated at the bottom of society. The struggle for Spain was becoming a part of the grass root attemptof workers to dismantle the conditions that kept them down. In this everyday civil war against the owners of capital, they were incorporating a vision of internationalism from below. Spain was being accorded a central space within the interpretive framework of the dispossessed to fight those ruling their lives, indistinguishable from the forces ruling the world.

(Photo: Flooded streets of Kolkata during monsoon 1937)
Timeline of the Spanish Civil War


In February, Popular Front wins national elections in Spain. A leftwing coalition government comes to power.

In July, a rightwing military uprising to depose the elected democratic government and led by General Francisco Franco begins. The rebel army is supported by the Falangists, the Spanish fascists.

In August, the International Brigade volunteers start arriving to fight for the Spanish Republic.

Nazi Germany and fascist Italy supports the fascist rebels while Soviet Russia stands by the Spanish Republic. The Western powers, Britain and USA withhold sale of weapons to the Republican government.


In February-March, the Nationalists offensive is checked and the International Brigade plays a major role.

In April, Guernica, an entire town which acted as a republican stronghold is destroyed by aerial bombing.

In May, internal division among Republican groups in Barcelona takes a serious turn.

In August, the Vatican formally sides with Franco.


By April, Republican Spain is partitioned by the fascists.

In July, the Republican army starts collapsing after the Battle of the Ebro.

In October, the volunteers of the International Brigade leave Spain as defeat looms.


In January, Barcelona is captured by the fascist rebels.

In February, Britain and France recognise the Falangist-military regime, vesting fascism with quick and much-needed legitimacy.

In March, Madrid, the Spanish capital, surrenders to the fascists.

By April, the Spanish Republic has been destroyed.


Records of Intelligence Branch, Bengal Police
Records of Special Branch, Calcutta Police
Hirendranath Mukhopadhyay, ‘Spain-er Grihajuddha (1936-39) Smarane’ (In memory of the Spanish Civil War), Manabendra Bandopadhyay (ed.), Spain-er Grihajuddha: 50 bachar pare (Civil War in Spain: 50 Years Later), Kolkata, Dey’s Publishing, 1988.
Rabin Pal, ‘Spain-er Grihajuddha o Bharatiya Buddhijibi’ (Spanish Civil War and Indian Intellectuals),  Manabendra Bandopadhyay (ed.), Spain-er Grihajuddha: 50 bachar pare (Civil War in Spain: 50 Years Later), Kolkata, Dey’s Publishing, 1988.
Maria Framke, ‘Political Humanitarianism in the 1930s: Indian Aid for Republican Spain’, European Review of History, Volume 23, Issue 1-2, 2016.

(Cartoon: July 1937: Hitler and Mussolini standby as puzzled parents while Franco, dressed as a priest christens an emaciated and dying baby, representing Spain.)

[1]IB 376/1928. ‘IB’ stands for Intelligence Branch of Bengal Police.
[2]KPM/SB/00075/05.SB File No.12894/36. ‘SB’ stands for Special Branch of Calcutta Police.
[3]Hirendranath Mukhopadhyay, ‘Spain-er Grihajuddha (1936-39) Smarane’ (In memory of the Spanish Civil War), Manabendra Bandopadhyay (ed.), Spain-er Grihajuddha: 50 bachar pare (Civil War in Spain: 50 Years Later), Kolkata, Dey’s Publishing, 1988, p.34.
[4]KPM/SB/00075/05.SB File No.12894/36.

Suchetana Chattopadhyay teaches history at Jadavpur University.

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